Fuji - Toyota Win at Home

Toyota took their first World Endurance Championship win since 2014, securing the top step of the podium at Fuji after an intense battle with Audi that went down to the flag.

The gap between the winning #6 Toyota and second-placed #8 Audi was measured at 1.4 seconds as the chequered flag dropped. Porsche #1 came home to complete the podium, but throughout the race all three manufacturers looked like they could win around the technically challenging Japanese circuit. LMP2 saw reigning class champions G-Drive #26 take their first 2016 victory ahead of #43 RGR Sport after a tight battle in the final hour. Class Championship leaders #36 Signatech Alpine took the bottom step of the podium keeping their championship campaign alive.

The GTE classes saw dominance at the front of the field. There was no match for the Ford’s in GTE Pro, allowing the team to scored their first 1-2 win with the UK-based squad. AF Corse were always just behind them, the #51 car taking the final step of the podium. For the fourth time this season the #98 Aston Martin took the win in GTE Am, the #83 AF Corse Ferrari took second with the KCMG #78 Porsche in third after the #50 Corvette suffering technical issues, taking them out of contention. A full green circuit gave six hours of uninterrupted racing and saw 30 of the 32 contenders reach the chequered flag. There were a few brief moments of yellow flag areas on track but no Safety Cars or Full Course Yellows played havoc with the strategies the teams had planned. This allowed all of these strategies and tactics to play out, giving an exciting six hours of racing and a heavy advantage to those who called the strategy correctly.

For most of the six hours, it looked like Audi had yet another potential win in the bag. Bad luck struck them once again as, within the first hour, #7 was forced into the garage for nearly an hour and a half due to a hybrid motor failure. The team tried to repair the car but, in the end, sent it out with the hybrid front drive disconnected so the car would run. After consultation with the FIA, the car was deemed to breach the technical regulations for the LMP1 class, the FIA informed Audi that the car would not be classified. With this information, Audi retired the car before the end of the second hour, not willing to put the energy and resources into trying to repair the problem when they would not be classified for points. The #4 ByKOLLES Racing Team was the only other retiree from the race along side the #7 Audi.

The LMP1 race really came alive through the last hour and a half. Toyota gained the advantage over Audi #8 and Porsche #1 through two tactical calls in the closing stages of the race. To jump the Porsche, Toyota short fuelled the #6 in their penultimate pit stop. This kept them out ahead of the #1Porsche which still had to make its next scheduled stop. Mark Webber jumped in the car for the final stint and looked to be closing in on the pair out ahead, but the car could do nothing to close the gap and settled for ending 17.339 seconds behind the leading duo.

In choosing not to change the Toyota’s tyres during their final stop, Kamui Kobayashi got back out on track about 12 seconds ahead of the Audi. But with the Audi on fresher tyres it was a race to the chequered flag. Traffic forced the gap to fluctuate, with Audi sneaking ever closer. After their last few races it was another victory Audi did not want to see slip through its fingers. A train of traffic with about ten minutes to go brought the Audi right up behind the Toyota but there was nothing Loic Duval could do to pass as the chequered flag dropped.

Although at some stages it looked like it could challenge the Porsche for P3, the #5 Toyota never shared the same pace the #6 had. It finished fourth, holding off Championship leader’s Porsche #2 who struggled with balance during the entire weekend. The balance issues on the second Porsche saw a significant drop in performance, completely taking it out of contention for the podium. Porsche #2 still lead the championship, but the points advantage is now 23 points with two rounds left of the season.

LMP2 held most of the action through the 6 Hours of Fuji, with close racing between the cars. The G-Drive #26 held the lead comfortably for most of the race, leaving the field to fight for the positions behind it. Alex Lynn, debuting in the #45 Manor, was one of the only start incidents. Contact saw the car having to pit for repairs and dropped it out of contention with the race having barely stared. This was confirmed when the team was handed a drive-through penalty for the incident and a 35 second penalty for speeding in the pit lane.

Other debutants, Sean Gelael and Antonio Giovinazzi, joined Giedo Van de Garde in the newly sponsored #30 Extreme Speed Motorsport Ligier/Nissan. They finished fourth and would have possibly challenged for the podium had they not have been handed a 20 second penalty for speeding in the pit lane.

The battle for the lead, alike LMP1, came down to the last lap. Strategy had seen the RGR Sport #43 managed to get ahead of #26 G-Drive after the last pit stop. RGR were chasing their third win of the season whilst G-Drive where after their maiden win of the season, with bad luck having stalled their chances of retaining the LMP2 title this year. Will Stevens was the last man in the car, standing in for Rene Rast this weekend. He was chasing down Bruno Senna and pulled off an impressive performance to get the G-Drive ahead of the #43 Ligier. However, the pass was debatable for both teams. Stevens made the move on Senna by crossing the pit exit line, which meant he technically exceeded track limits. On the other hand, it could be argued that Senna pushed Stevens off wide, giving him no choice but to leave the track. The stewards deemed Stevens responsible for leaving the track and instructed the G-Drive team to hand the position back. It was the fairest penalty to be handed out to G-Drive under the circumstances.

The problem was that Stevens had fresher tyres and clearly more pace than Senna, meaning he had to slow down a lot to let the RGR back passed. This brought in the threat of the #36 Signatech Alpine who was sat in third and closing in slowly on the lead battle.

But the superior pace of the #26 G-Drive saw Stevens get a clean pass on Senna with five minutes left of the race. It was a deserving win for the G-Drive team who had dominated the race up until the strategic call that got RGR out ahead of them.

The #66 Ford started on pole, but by the first corner the sister #67 Ford was up ahead of it. The car shared by Harry Tincknell and Andy Priaulx continued to hold an unchallenged lead for the entire six hours, taking Ford’s second win of the season. Olivier Pla and Stefan Mucke finished second to the #67 with a 15 second buffer splitting them at the chequered flag. The gap was relatively close between the two Ford’s throughout the race until the fifth hour. Pla had a spin in the fifth hour that put him in the mix with the Ferrari’s and dropped him away from challenging for the win. But the advantage that Ford had around Fuji Speedway saw the #66 Ford back up to second before the close of the hour. AF Corse finished third and fourth, with the #51 crew out pacing the sister team in the #71. The #95 Aston Martin looked to challenge the #71 for fourth, getting between the two Ferrari’s for a period of time, but the pace deficit was too much to overhaul and Thiim and Sorenson had to settle for fifth.

The Am class was dominated again by the #98 Aston Martin crew of Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda and Paul Dalla Lana. They finished a lap up on second place and class championship leaders #83 AF Corse crew containing Emmanuel Collard, Francois Perrodo and Rui Aguas. Larbre Competition had been set to take third-place in class, with the #50 Corvette performing strongly around the Japanese circuit. However, an failure on the car saw it drop off the podium, handing the position to #78 KCMG. The Chevrolet finished at the bottom of the timesheet, 97 laps off the leading #6 Toyota LMP1 car.

Photograph Gabi Tomescu - AdrenalMedia.com